The Rouleur Supreme Banana goes to our overall unsung hero of the Tour de France – not a stage winner nor the yellow jersey – but a rider whose efforts over the three weeks deserve recognition.
Val Thorens, the penultimate day of the 2019 Tour de France, 18 kilometres to go. After riding almost half the race’s final climb on the front for his Jumbo-Visma leader, George Bennett peeled off the front and ground to a near halt.
A penny for his thoughts. It was a mindboggling Tour for him – as a team, Jumbo-Visma have been outstanding, with four stage wins and third place for Steven Kruijswijk. But individually, Bennett’s race had more ups and downs than a jack-in-the-box on a malfunctioning cherry picker.
It was all going so well, with sprint victories for team-mates Teunissen and Groenewegen, sandwiched by a TTT where the New Zealand was a linchpin. Bennett was sat pretty before stage 10, fourth overall, best of the potential contenders aside from Alaphilippe and Pinot.
Forty kilometres from the finish in Albi, Jumbo-Visma erroneously sent Bennett – to reiterate, the bloke fourth on GC! – back for bottles and all hell broke loose in front. Amid crosswind splits, it was a “communication cock-up”: it transpired nobody even needed the extra sustenance.
His team-mate Wout van Aert won and they saved face, but Bennett lost nearly ten minutes and any hopes of being New Zealand’s first yellow jersey wearer or finishing in the top ten.
Instead of sulking and skulking around the back of the race till Paris after this cruel turn, he became a shining helper to Kruijswijk – his avowed goal for the race, after all. That was most prominent on the Tourmalet, taking the Dutchman to the last kilometre and outclimbing several contenders, despite still suffering with occasional side stitch problems when he goes at his maximum.
On stage 18, he crashed hard going down the Col de Vars, yet scraped himself off the tarmac and got back to help Kruijswijk. He fell again, hard, descending the Galibier that same day. Brave to the point of foolhardy.
The 29-year-old has taken his very eventful three weeks with humour and hardiness. “Looks like I’ve become a domestique. I can’t say I like it, but that’s racing,” he told the New York Times last week.
Not only that, but it doesn’t hurt he’s a nice fella who is always generous, open and eloquent in his dealings with the media, not least when we approached him with a bunch of bananas and a big smile on the Champs-Élysées.
Honorable mentions, and considerations, for this prize went to the likes of Thomas De Gendt, David Gaudu, Séb Reichenbach, Andrey Amador, Dylan Van Baarle, Yoann Offredo.
But Supreme Banana had to be Bennett. He experienced one of the broadest spectrums of experiences a modern Tour rider can reasonably expect – expectation, promise, victory, misfortune, pain, disappointment, perseverance, selflessness, a bit more pain and courage. Few would begrudge him a fine Vuelta next month.
Rouleur Top Bananas 2019:
Stage 1 – Greg Van Avermaet
Stage 2 – Tony Martin
Stage 3 – Michael Matthews
Stage 4 – Max Richeze
Stage 5 – Toms Skuiņš
Stage 6 – Geraint Thomas
Stage 7 – Wout van Aert
Stage 8 – Thomas de Gendt
Stage 9 – Jasper Stuyven
Stage 10 – Luke Rowe
Stage 11 – Emanuel Buchmann
Stage 12 – Matteo Trentin
Stage 13 – Enric Mas
Stage 14 – David Gaudu
Stage 15 – Lennard Kämna
Stage 16 – Lotto-Soudal
Stage 17 – Kasper Asgreen
Stage 18 – Romain Bardet
Stage 19 – The snowplough driver
Stage 20 – Laurens De Plus
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